Epic coastline, idyllic sites, iconic barrier reef, incredible wildlife, and tropical rainforests

At the end of July, sixteen students participating in Alice Spring’s Follow The Dream program – an academic enrichment program managed by the Graham Polly Farmer Foundation – went on a trip-of-a-lifetime to Cairns where they explored Queensland’s epic coastline, idyllic sites, iconic barrier reef, incredible wildlife, and tropical rainforests.

The sixteen students from Centralian Middle School and Centralian Senior College were chosen to take part in this incredible adventure thanks to their strong school performance, excellent school attendance, and positive attitude to learning. For some of the students, this was a trip of ‘firsts’: first time on a plane, first time to Queensland, first time at the ocean, first time on a boat, first time in a rainforest, and first time spear-hunting.

During the week-long visit to Cairns, the students had the opportunity to explore much of the surrounding region. On the first full day, students travelled to Mossman Gorge, located in the southern part of the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park, which is the world’s oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest. They were welcomed at Mossman Gorge Centre, an Indigenous eco-tourism development, and taken on a Dreamtime Walking Tour of the rainforest by a local Aboriginal guide who taught students about the ancient flora and fauna of the rainforest, traditional plant uses and medicinal properties, and Kuku Yalanii culture.

The purpose-built gondolas of the iconic Skyrail Cableway gave students the opportunity to soar above the pristine rainforest canopy with a birds-eye view of this living natural wonder. At three separate look-outs, the students could explore the forest floor, take in the spectacular views of the Barron Gorge National Park, and learn about the rainforest’s ancient plants and animals from a local Aboriginal ranger. The students returned to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Rail, a unique Australian railway journey, where the 19th century style carriages slowly wound down the side of the mountain through tropical rainforest, past spectacular waterfalls and into the beautiful Barron Gorge.

Another highlight of the Cairns adventure was the opportunity to go spearfishing and hunting in the mangroves of Cooya Beach, just north of Cairns. Brandon Walker, a traditional owner of the Mossman and Cooya lands, took the students on a Cultural Habitat Tour, teaching them how to throw the spear and how to spot the crabs. After exploring the beach and wading through thigh-high waters, the group entered the mangroves on the shore-front, clambering over tuberous mangrove roots and squelching through the soft mud to collect mussels and pipis. The catch was later cooked up in Brandon’s family home next to the beach, along with some delicious damper. For many students, this was their first time hunting and will be a memory treasured forever.

On the final day, students travelled to Green Island, a tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef with unique island rainforests, white sandy beaches, magnificent coral reefs and abundant marine life. For some of our students, this was the first time they had been on a boat. On the glass bottomed boat tour, students saw a range of fish and underwater life, including Batfish, spangled emperors and even a graceful marine turtle.

John Cooper, Follow The Dream Program Coordinator at Centralian Senior College, comments: “We wanted to take the students to Cairns so they could experience first-hand a completely different climate and environment: from the desert in Alice Springs to the rainforest and ocean in Cairns. The Daintree Dreaming Tour and the crab hunting on the coastal mud flats were standout experiences. The students are from a range of backgrounds and age groups, but they all came together to hunt in the mangroves and then eat what they’d caught, drawing them together with new learning experiences. The hands-on, interactive activates throughout the Cairns trip have given our Polly Farmer Central Australian Aboriginal students a never-to-be-forgotten experience, boosting their confidence, growing their appetite for learning, and opening their minds to a wide array of post-school pathways. Such fantastic learning opportunities owe their success to forward-thinkers like Graham Polly Farmer, the iconic AFL player, and to the funding support from Federal Government.”

Declan, a Year 10 Follow The Dream student who has been part of the program for 4 years, says: “This is my first trip to Cairns and the whole experience provided by the Polly Farmer Follow The Dream program has been absolutely phenomenal. We have learnt so much, had so much fun, and discovered different Aboriginal cultures. We had the opportunity to go hunting with a local Aboriginal guide, which was amazing. This was the first time I had been hunting and it felt great to be out in the ocean and barefoot on the beach.”

Follow The Dream, managed by The Graham Polly Farmer Foundation, is a national academic enrichment program that supports Aboriginal students to complete their secondary education and move into successful post-school pathways, including university, skill training, apprenticeships and direct employment.  Follow The Dream has been supporting Aboriginal students in Alice Springs for over ten years and is proudly partnered by the Australian Government.

While secondary students in Alice Springs at Centralian Middle School and Centralian Senior College can join Follow The Dream, all primary school students in Alice Springs have the opportunity to participate in two primary programs: Learning Clubs (held at Bradshaw Primary School and Gillen Primary School) and a Maths & Science Centre of Excellence (held at Centralian Middle School).

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